China-Japan relations

China holding six Japanese men, possibly on spying charges, says government source

Three arrested in Shandong and three others in Hainan for ‘illegal activities’ as Beijing steps up efforts to counter threats from abroad

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2017, 11:46pm

China has detained six Japanese citizens for “illegal activities”, the foreign ministry said on Monday, amid Beijing’s growing concerns about threats from foreign spy agencies.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japanese consular authorities had been informed of the investigation.

“The relevant departments of the Chinese authorities have investigated six Japanese who were suspected of undertaking illegal activities in China according to the law,” Hua said.

Hua gave no details of the investigation, but Japan’s Kyodo News reported that the six men could be investigated on suspicion of espionage.

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Three of the men were detained in Shandong province and another three in Hainan province.

The provinces were home to major Chinese naval ports, which might have prompted Chinese authorities to suspect the men of involvement in spying, the report said, citing unnamed Japanese government sources.

The three men detained in Hainan are in their 20s to 50s and are suspected of being a threat to national security. They entered the province in late March for work related to a hot spring development, the report said.

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Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed that six men had been detained but declined to comment on allegations of espionage.

“We were notified by China that three Japanese men each, six in total, had been detained in March by the Chinese authorities in Shandong province and Hainan province,” Suga said. “We are providing them appropriate support through our diplomatic establishments abroad in light of protecting Japanese nationals.”

China has stepped up its counter-espionage efforts in recent years. A report by The New York Times on Sunday said China jailed or killed more than a dozen US spies from late 2010 to the end of 2012, dismantling US espionage efforts in China.

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China detained two Japanese men on espionage charges in September 2015, in Liaoning near the border with North Korea and in the eastern province of Zhejiang near a military facility, but Japan denied spying on its neighbour.

Cash rewards of up to 500,000 yuan (US$73,000) are on offer to encourage Beijing residents to report foreign spies, according to new municipal state security regulations published last month.

And early last year, state security agencies posted cartoons in public places warning young Chinese women to be wary of dating foreign men because they could be spies.

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Beijing-based military analyst Zhou Chenming said the rapid modernisation of China’s military and efforts to extend the country’s ­global outreach had prompted Beijing to boost its counter-espionage ­efforts.

“China is much stronger than before, and other countries want to know more about what China wants to achieve through the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and what exactly the Chinese military wants to do,” Zhou said.

Li Wei, an anti-terrorism specialist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, agreed, saying geographical closeness made the threat of espionage by Japan particularly high.